Sniffles? Sore throat? Chills? Could it be Covid-19? “The reality is, any symptom at all seems to be possible with Covid,” said Kathryn Boling, MD, a family medicine specialist with Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, MD.
Dr. Boling has had patients who thought they had allergies, the common cold, or strep throat – and test positive for Covid-19. “I’m telling my patients, if you have anything that you think is your normal sniffles, or allergies, a sore throat that you think is a cold, you should behave as if it’s Covid until it’s proven otherwise,” said Dr. Boling.
The World Health Organization has a list of the common and not-so-common symptoms of Covid-19, which has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide. Chills, dizziness, nasal congestion, diarrhea, among a host of other symptoms, are all indicators that the virus could be present.
That body ache and sore throat could be strep throat, a bacterial infection, or Covid-19, a viral infection, or it could be both. Dr. Boling explained that co-infections are entirely possible.
So, it is incredibly important that when people feel ill, they behave as if it is Covid-19, until receiving a test proving otherwise.
How can you know?
If so many symptoms can point to Covid-19, how can people tell illnesses apart? Dr. Boling said to count back about five days and think about possible exposures. “If you get a cold, that means you came in contact with a virus, even if it’s just a cold,” she explained. So, if you have an illness like a urinary tract infection or an infected cut, something that only takes a human host and some pesky bacteria, going to see a doctor is still a good idea. But Covid-19 is unlikely to be the culprit. But, for people with the sniffles, or worse, Dr. Boling explained, “If you get a cold or the flu or anything like that, that means you got infected by somebody, which means it could be Covid.”
So, for people worried their symptoms put them on the Covid-19 hit list, here are two easy questions to ask yourself:
What have you been doing? Have you been out of the house, around other people? Has anyone in your home been out of the house and around other people? If the answers are yes, consider Covid-19 as a possibility.
Does this seem like an illness you got from another person? Covid-19 is a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets, as can the common cold and particularly the flu be transmitted. If your symptoms do not require transmission from another person, say a migraine or a bacterial infection, Covid-19 is less likely.
Those who are worried should call their health-care provider and take all precautions. Safer is better than sorry. “The problem with Covid is its kind of like playing Russian roulette,” said Dr. Boling, “because I have patients in their 90s who have gotten this, and breezed right through. And then I have patients in their 30s who have gotten this and they are so sick that I think they need to be hospitalized.” People who live with others and worry they may have Covid-19 should warn the people they live with and take all appropriate precautions.
But, having symptoms does not mean someone has Covid-19. With so much overlap with the flu and other illnesses and the possibility of co-infection, there are only two ways to know if someone has Covid-19, a positive test while they’re sick, or antibodies after they get better. As for getting a test, people should check in advance if they need to notify staff they are symptomatic and wear a mask.
Dr. Boling has seen symptoms as diverse as sore gums and skin, so anything is possible when it comes to odd Covid-19 symptoms. Bottom line, especially if you may have been exposed, get to a doctor and get a test, or quarantine for 10 days, and, if you haven’t already, get a flu shot.